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A closer look at the European Union Aviation Safety Agency

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Recently we took a look at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and how it operates as the regulatory body for aviation in China. Just about everyone has heard of the FAA in the US, especially after some of its failings were highlighted around the 737 MAX crashes of 2018 and 2019. But many are likely less familiar with Europe’s equivalent, EASA.

A closer look at the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)

EASA unifies aviation regulation across the European Union. In evaluating the 737 MAX for example, it was EASA that made the decision for Europe as a whole. That’s despite the fact that each nation has its own national aviation body as well. Much like the FAA and other regulators, EASA is responsible for determining airworthiness of new aircraft, handing out type certificates, issuing airworthiness directives, giving authorizations to foreign airlines that want to operate to and from the EU (see the EU’s infamous blacklist) and more. The agency is based in Cologne, Germany.

Netherland Air Force KC-30 Cologne EASA Europe Germany
A Netherlands Royal Air Force Airbus KC-30M departs Cologne-Bonn Airport (CGN). A model of European cooperation.

EASA’s responsibilities have expanded over time, to the point that European nations now delegate most regulatory matters to the agency. That makes sense as it streamlines processes and makes everything more efficient. EASA also takes on these tasks for non-EU countries within the continent such as Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. It even works closely and provides oversight for countries beyond Europe too – but more on that later.

Before EASA

EASA didn’t come into being until 2002 – well after the EU was officially formed back in 1993. Before 2002 it was the JAA, or Joint Aviation Authorities, that worked on pan-European aviation regulation. In fact that organization had been around since 1970. Over time the JAA, and now EASA, have taken on more and more of the oversight and certification responsibility for EU member states.

Turkey EASA pan-European partners EU Turkish Airlines A330
Turkey and Turkish Airlines work closely with EASA.

JAA member states included all current EU member states but also nations like Moldova, Turkey and Georgia (the republic). Many of these same countries continue to work with EASA, especially the EU’s eastern neighbors.

EASA beyond Europe

EASA plays an important role in aviation matters in a number of countries beyond the European Union and the European Free Trade Association. That’s especially the case in eastern Europe and central Asia where aviation infrastructure may be less developed and closer cooperation with Europe is being pursued. Authorities in these countries can take advantage of EASA resources and expertise.

EASA’s Pan-European Partners (PANEP) initiative is an extension of the EU’s extensive work in various matters, including many aspects of transportation, to its east. EU membership candidates in the Balkans – including Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia – are an important part of this. The idea is to integrate their practices with EASA’s and build competence so that eventual full integration into EASA goes as smoothly as possible. Turkey is also an important part of this program because despite recent tensions Turkey remains an EU candidate country as well. Countries like Armenia and Georgia also participate.

EASA’s sphere extends well beyond the near east, however. Since 2017, for example, EASA also works closely with Singapore on aircraft certifications. Naturally the agency has working relationships with many other countries, from China to Australia and more.

The UK to exit EASA

With its departure from the EU, Britain has also left EASA. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will take over many of the vital regulatory tasks previously handled by EASA.

British Airways A319 BEA Europe Brexit EASA
British Airways may see some flying disrupted when the UK leaves EASA and European aviation agreements cease to be valid.

The process is ongoing as the CAA reworks everything from aircraft certifications to airline ownership and open sky agreements. It’s clear pan-European cooperation in aviation is so intricately intertwined that undoing it all is a very complicated process.

The dream of unified European ATC

Many European aviation industry figures would like to see change in the area of air traffic management across the bloc. Right now the individual European states manage air traffic. Although they cooperate via an organization known as EUROCONTROL, the current setup leads to a number of inefficiencies.

Advocates for a more unified approach point out that it could solve many problems at once. That includes environmental benefits, reduced delays, increased capacity and improved safety. The “Single European Sky” initiative is the European Commission’s answer to this – and naturally EASA is closely involved. The EU has put billions of euro into pursuing this goal. Europe has many important aviation projects ongoing, but this may be one of its most critical.

Featured image © Olivier Landes
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